Harsh words have been traded between Canada and Saudi Arabia, starting with online urges and quickly turning into definitive action — Saudi Arabia demanding the exodus of the Canadian ambassador from their country, pulling all scholarships from their students in Canada, and even suspending flights to the North American country.

What spurred this off? Why did it escalate so quickly?

It started with Amnesty International’s condemnation of the arrest of two female human rights activists in Saudi Arabia — Samar Badawi and Nassima al-Sada. They were detained after a history of harassment, travel restrictions and other methods used to attempt to shut them down.

Samar Badawi is a particularly important name, as she is the sister of Raif Badawi. Raif has long been a voice of dissent against the Saudi government, and has been arrested several times and punished with years in prison (which has been extended), on top of a sentencing of 1000 lashes, which is supposed to be carried out over time (he has already been subjected to a public flogging). Raif’s family now lives in Canada and has attained Canadian citizenship; he has been in a Saudi prison since 2012.

And so when they went on to arrest Raif’s sister, Samar, alongside activist Nassima al-Sada, it drew some serious attention.

Amnesty International’s Middle East research director, Lynn Maalouf, said that,

This unprecedented level of persecution of human rights defenders in Saudi Arabia is a disturbing sign that the crackdown is far from over.

These brave women represented the last vestiges of the human rights community in the country, and now they too have been detained. Saudi Arabia’s new leadership under Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman has crushed any space for the existence of human rights defenders in the country.”

Soon after, Canada responded by posting a tweet:

This is what seemed to set of officials throughout Saudi Arabia. They responded with a Twitter tirade which was quite long. It included this:

Read the entire thread from Saudi Arabia’s Foreign Ministry here. They also said that “KSA (Kingdom of Saudi Arabia) through its history has not and will not accept any form of interfering in the internal affairs of the Kingdom. The KSA considers the Canadian position an attack on the KSA and requires a firm stance to deter who attempts to undermine the sovereignty of the KSA.”

This was followed by even harsher statements, two of which read as follows:

They also said that, “All Saudia flights from/to Toronto, Canada will be suspended starting from 13 Aug 2018.” They continued to revoke sponsorship and scholarships given to Saudi students in Canada, essentially withdrawing the students from their studies.

And yet the Tweets from Saudi Arabia continued, though this one was later deleted and originated from a pro-Saudi government account, @infographic_ksa (the whole page has since been shut down pending a Saudi “investigation”). The picture shows a plane flying toward Toronto, and toward the CN Tower. To many, it was a clear reminder of the 9/11 terrorist attacks — especially since 15 of the 19 hijackers on 9/11 were Saudi Arabian citizens.

Once the tweet was removed, the same @Infographic_ksa account, which was verified via Twitter, said that, “Earlier we posted an image which was inappropriate, which is why we deleted the post immediately. The aircraft was intended to symbolize the return of the Ambassador, we realize this was not clear and any other meaning was unintentional. We apologize to anyone who was offended.” The account was suspended soon after.

To add fuel to the fire, while Saudi Arabia was condemning Canada for their alleged misinterpretation of human rights, they also crucified a man from Myanmar/Burma. This was a capital punishment, as Elias Abulkalaam Jamaleddeen was convicted of breaking and entering, attempted rape and theft of a firearm. He was executed and then crucified in Mecca, the holy city that lies in western Saudi Arabia.

Saudi Arabia is known for its capital punishment, having executed 146 people in 2017. It is a natural extension of Shari’ah law, and includes a public beheading — the subsequent crucifixion is not standard every single time. Some things that have warranted the death penalty in Saudi Arabia: murder, adultery (which for both men and women often involves stoning to death, instead of a beheading), and witchcraft. Punishments for coming out as homosexual have also ranged from anywhere between fines and floggings to the death penalty after torture.

This crucifixion has, on top of the other things, drawn even more international criticism.

In this Saturday, May 7, 2016 photo, Saudi women’s rights activist Souad al-Shammary looks at her Twitter account on her mobile phone in Jiddah, Saudi Arabia, Saturday, May 7, 2016. Once a devout girl who tended sheep, al-Shammary is a twice-divorced mother of six and Islamic law graduate who is taking on Saudi Arabia’s powerful religious establishment. She is a liberal feminist who roots her arguments in Islam and has been jailed for her views. | AP Photo

Featured image: In this Saturday, March 21, 2009 file photo, Saudis look at jewelry at a gold fair in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia. Human rights group Amnesty International says Saudi authorities have used an iron grip to consolidate power and unleashed a ruthless campaign of persecution against peaceful activists to silence criticism of the state. | AP Photo/Hassan Ammar, File